The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 18, 2011

Madelia turns out for soldier's funeral (PHOTO GALLERY)

MADELIA — Emilio Campo Jr. has been described as a charming and quick-witted young man who occasionally needed to call on those skills as a complement to explain his spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment choices.

His mother, Mirna, said the military may have sobered him a little bit.

On leave, Emilio, known as “junior” at home, ended a dinner-table dispute by telling his siblings that they ought to appreciate what they have rather than complain about it. The fact that his mother tells this anecdote implies this was a new side to her son.

Friends, family, a two-star general and a priest remembered Campo Friday during his funeral Mass in Madelia as a free spirit, a soldier and a Catholic. He died earlier this month in a rocket attack in Baghdad at the age of 20.

“He was very proud about what he was doing,” his mother said. She was proud, too, even when Emilio’s 2008 enlistment in the National Guard meant two of her three sons were in the military.

The military seemed to be a good fit for Emilio, who said he wanted to be a doctor but knew his family couldn’t afford college, Mirna said. There was a religious connection, too.

On the underside of his right wrist there’s a tattoo: “Psalm.” On the left wrist, same spot, it’s “144.”

The psalm begins: “Blessed by the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war ...”

Many of the visitors — at least 700, probably closer to 1,000 — wore commemorative T-shirts with the psalm’s message.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Rep. Tim Walz and Sen. Al Franken also attended the funeral.

One of the priests who eulogized Campo in the bilingual Mass, Jim Berning, said remembering his sacrifice in the light of what he said was Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the only way to make sense of the tragedy, “the only thing that makes sense.”

The Minnesota Patriot Guard showed up at the request of the family. At least 136 riders, each with American flags, lined Crosby Avenue and 1st St. NE, outside St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Children from the parish school sat on the lawn across the street.

There was near-total silence, except for the news helicopter overhead, as everyone waited for the funeral procession. Just after 1 p.m., the hearse arrived, and the casket was unloaded by six white-gloved members of the Minnesota National Guard.

The men are part of the Guard’s funeral honors program, and they attend the funerals of veterans across Minnesota. The spot on their uniforms that usually holds their name tags is empty; they are anonymous in order to keep the attention away from themselves.

One said working at funerals like this, of young soldiers in their prime, are more emotional than honoring a veteran who had a long life.

The soldiers who knew and love Campo best are still deployed. Another Guardsman says they know they’re also here for Campo in the place of those who can’t be.

A general from the Kansas base where Campo was based called him  “a great example of what a soldier should be and a great example of what an American should be.”

Campo was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Good Conduct medal, Combat Medic badge, Iraqi campaign medal and the Bronze Star, which is awarded for acts of valor or meritorious service. More details about his death will be revealed, first to the family, when the final report is written, said Sgt. Kristopher Nelson, who is the Army’s liaison with the family.

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